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Understanding Voltage Standing Wave Ratio

Key Takeaways

  • The ratio of transmitted to reflected voltage standing waves is a crucial parameter for evaluating the efficiency of power transmission in RF systems. It indicates impedance mismatches and potential energy reflection in the transmission line.

  • A high VSWR indicates reduced efficiency in the transmission line and increased reflected energy, which can damage transmitters and reduce their effectiveness.

  • With perfect impedance matching, energy transfers seamlessly from the power stages to the load. Real systems, however, often face mismatched impedances necessitating the voltage standing wave ratio to quantify.

The VSWR represents the ratio of energy produced by the source that goes to the load to the reflected power back into the transmission line.

The VSWR represents the ratio of energy produced by the source that goes to the load to the reflected power back into the transmission line.

The voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) is the proportion between the transmitted and reflected voltage standing waves in a radio frequency (RF) electrical transmission system. The VSWR quantifies the efficacy of RF power transmission from the source through the transmission line to the load.

How Voltage Standing Wave Ratio Affects Performance

Effects of VSWR on Performance


Transmitter Power Amplifiers Can Be Damaged

The heightened levels of voltage and current resulting from standing waves on the feeder can harm the output transistors of the transmitter. While semiconductor devices are typically reliable within their operational limits, the voltage and current standing waves on the feeder can constructively interfere, leading to failure pushed beyond their specified boundaries.

PA Protection Reduces Output Power

To mitigate the risk of high SWR levels damaging the power amplifier, many transmitters are equipped with protection circuits that decrease the transmitter's output as the SWR increases. Consequently, a poor match between the feeder and antenna leads to a high SWR, a reduction in output power, and an overall significant loss in transmitted power.

High Voltage and Current Levels Can Damage Feeder

Feeders usually operate within their safe limits, but extreme conditions like current maxima can cause excessive local heating, which damages or melts plastics. High voltages might lead to arcing under certain circumstances.

Delays Caused by Reflections Can Cause Distortion

Reflected signals due to impedance mismatch travel back to the source and can be reflected again towards the antenna, introducing a delay equal to twice the signal's transmission time along the feeder. In data transmission, this can lead to inter-symbol interference. In analog TV transmission, this might create a ghost image.

Standing Wave Ratio (SWR) and Voltage Standing Wave Ratio

Impedance inconsistencies in a radio-frequency (RF) electrical transmission line can cause power dissipation and energy reflection. The voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) serves as a method for assessing the flaws in a transmission line.

Voltage Standing Wave Ratios and Antennas

An illustrative instance is a power amplifier linked to an antenna/transmitter via a transmission line. A higher voltage standing wave ratio signifies reduced efficiency in the transmission line and greater rebounded energy, potentially harming the transmitter and reducing its effectiveness.

In the industry, antennas are often evaluated (pass/fail) based on VSWR specifications. This passive measurement method quickly determines if antennas are properly tuned. The antenna's VSWR as a function of frequency is recorded using a network analyzer. It's important to note that while VSWR indicates how much power is delivered to an antenna, it doesn't guarantee that all the received power is radiated. Therefore, VSWR assesses the antenna's potential to radiate. A low VSWR indicates good matching but doesn't necessarily correlate with effective power radiation. To accurately determine radiated power, tests in an anechoic chamber or other radiated antenna tests are required, as VSWR alone doesn't suffice to confirm an antenna's proper functioning.


Standing wave ratio (SWR) measures the congruence of load impedance with the inherent impedance of a transmission line or waveguide. Impedance discrepancies lead to standing waves along the transmission line. SWR is determined as the ratio of the amplitude at an antinode (maximum) to that at a node (minimum) of the standing wave along the line. Voltage standing wave ratio specifically pertains to the voltage ratio.

SWR, or standing wave ratio, can be expressed in terms of voltage and power or current on a transmission line. Since voltage standing waves are simpler to detect and voltages often hold greater significance in relation to the potential breakdown of devices, the term VSWR is more frequently used.

Voltage Standing Wave Ratio’s Relation to System Efficiency

In an ideal system, all the energy is seamlessly transferred from the power stages directly to the load, requiring perfect matching between the source impedance (which includes the characteristic impedance of the transmission line and all its connectors) and the load impedance. In such a scenario, the AC voltage of the signal remains the same from one end to the other as it traverses the system without any disruption or interference.

Conversely, in a real system, the presence of mismatched impedances results in a portion of the power being reflected back toward the source, akin to an echo. These reflections lead to constructive and destructive interference, creating fluctuating peaks and troughs in the voltage. This variation in voltage is dependent on both time and position along the transmission line, illustrating the complex interplay of energies in a non-ideal setting.

Standing wave ratio illustration

Standing wave demonstration: Imagine a transmission line containing a voltage. If there is a standing wave present in the transmission line (i.e., source/load mismatch), depending on where along the line is probed, a different voltage will be measured.

Impedance Matching

Standing wave ratio is typically gauged using a specialized device known as an SWR meter, which assesses the load impedance in relation to the characteristic impedance of the transmission line in use. Together, these parameters determine the reflection coefficient.

SWR must be calibrated or designed to match the specific characteristic impedance of the transmission line it is intended to evaluate. In practical scenarios, the majority of transmission lines utilized in relevant applications are coaxial cables, which predominantly have impedances of either 50 or 75 ohms. Consequently, most SWR meters are tailored to align with one of these two impedance values.

To achieve ideal voltage standing wave ratios, it's essential to implement impedance matching, a critical aspect we've previously examined. For RF designs that necessitate this approach, Cadence AWR software offers a comprehensive solution with its iMatch™ impedance-matching wizard. This tool simplifies the process, enabling you to match loads, transmission lines, amplifiers, and other components in your design.

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